By now, most Americans are aware of a recent revelation that the United States government has been tracking and studying UFOs for years. Personally, since moving to New Mexico four years ago, I've had three UFO sightings of my own.
Before I continue, let me attest that, at the time, I was not drunk or high on some drug and, according to my friends and family, I'm not crazy (yet.)
For 17 years, I was a general aviation pilot, who through training and experience, understood the properties of high altitude weather. As an aviation aficionado, I've been gazing skyward at airplanes for over 60 years and have a fair idea of what they look and don't look like. And finally, it's worth noting that each of these not-so-close encounters took place with witnesses who saw the same thing I did.
My first sighting was 10 years ago while my wife and I were enjoying a late afternoon hike off the Hondo-Seco Road. "Look," she said, pointing to the northeast, "a satellite."
Sure enough, there was a small white sphere zipping across the sky from northeast to southwest at jetliner altitude. My first reaction was skepticism; how could one see a satellite in the middle of the day? Being a visitor to Taos at the time, I rationalized that perhaps the high elevation and my polarized sunglasses could make such a viewing possible.
That supposition evaporated when the little white ball abruptly stopped in mid-air and hovered motionless at about 40,000 feet. After a minute or so, it slowly rose up, up and away until it disappeared from view. My second and third sightings, at Ojo Caliente and Tres Piedres, respectively, involved the same little white globe hanging suspended at a high elevation for more than 30 minutes in full view of dozens of other onlookers.
By now, many readers are thinking, "Aha, just another weather balloon." Not possible.
The winds at these high altitudes range anywhere from 60-to-200 miles per hour. There is no weather balloon on the planet that can stay motionless under such buffeting, even if it were tied to a 40,000-foot rope, which they aren't.
During World War II, B-29 bombers flying missions towards Japan into the jet stream were held stock-still in the air despite their 250-mph cruising airspeed. Beyond the possibility of balloons, no helicopter exists that can attain such altitudes. Nor are they round balls. Airplanes have wings and cylindrical fuselages, so they, too, are discounted.
Either these mysterious spheres are the result of super-secret military technology or constructed by an advanced civilization far beyond the reaches of our solar system.
Either way, I'm not too concerned and reacted like any other New Mexican. Were these sightings viewed elsewhere in the nation, people would have called the police in panic or alerted the news media. But the crowds I was with in Ojo and Piedras merely commented, "Cool, a UFO," and went about their business. As far as the reality of UFOs, I never understood what the hoo-ha was all about. The universe contains billions of suns and tens of billions of planets, so it stands to reason that there is intelligent life out there.
The real question, however, is whether there is intelligent life down here.
The evidence would suggest otherwise, seeing that we're quite happy polluting our home planet and denying scientific proof suggesting that doing so will have catastrophic consequences for future generations. Each year, the collective nations of the world spend about $1 trillion on weapons to kill, maim and spy on each other while untold millions suffer from disease and starvation. Add another trillion that the United States will spend over the next decade to upgrade its nuclear warhead arsenal which, if used, will reduce all of us to medieval levels of survival.
It's tempting and completely understandable to pray for an outside source to arrive and save us from ourselves. Devout Christians await the return of Jesus of Nazareth; observant Jews, the Messiah; the Lakota, the White Buffalo Calf Woman; and the New Age-niks, those little green men.
I wonder if it works that way. We humans are blessed (or cursed) with free will. Our destiny is in our own hands. As a species, we need to take a long, hard look at ourselves and decide if we want to spiritually evolve or self-destruct. At this critical junction in world history, it's one path or the other. There is no middle ground.
Daniel A. Brown is an artist, writer and former public school teacher living in Arroyo Seco.